Swearinger on preparing to be a starter
Orma Swearinger will have many more opportunities to spot her son’s long dreadlocks hanging out of his helmet and the towel hanging from his waist.
That’s how D.J. Swearinger’s mother easily identifies her son when he plays football. Swearinger, the second-round draft pick out of South Carolina, will make his first career start this Sunday at strong safety in Kansas City in place of the injured Danieal Manning.
On Monday, after he was informed by Texans defensive backs coach Vance Joseph that he would be starting, D.J. Swearinger told his mother first. He said his mom sent back a long text message filled with smiley-face emoticons. His mother won’t be able to make the trip from South Carolina to this Sunday’s game but saw him play in Houston earlier this year.
“She’ll catch the next one but not Kansas City,” said the smiling rookie.
But Sunday will be a big day for Swearinger, who has been used as the extra safety in the team’s dime package until this week. That role will now go to veteran Shiloh Keo, who was originally expected to be the starter next to Ed Reed.
“As a starter, you’ve got a huge responsibility,” said Swearinger, who admitted his preparation is different as a starter. “You’ve got to make plays. You’ve got to know what you’re doing and you’ve got to get that job done at the end of the day. That’s what I’ve been preparing to do. I’ve been preparing well and I’m going to do that.”
No one outside of the team knew Swearinger was going to start until defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said so on Thursday afternoon. On Wednesday, Keo even said he expected to start. But the team elected to go with the rookie instead. Phillips said Keo practices at free safety and Swearinger practices at strong safety.
“He plays fast, he’s a quick leaner,” Phillips said of Swearinger. “He makes mistakes but he corrects them. Whenever it’s in a game or practice or whatever. He’s really gotten better and better since he’s gone along. I think he’s ready to play, so that’s a good thing for us.”
It’ll be a big task to fill the shoes of Manning, who was placed on the Injured Reserve with a knee injury. Swearinger said he’ll miss Manning, who sat next to him to offer frequent advice. But he also added that he’ll remain in touch with the veteran.
“He was having a great year,” Brooks Reed said of Manning. “He brought a physical presence as a safety and he’s great in coverage. He’s a big-time playmaker for this team. He does everything good and we need leaders on this team.”
But Swearinger claims he’s ready to start. He said he knew he was ready for an extended role after the third game of the season and, now, he’s getting the chance.
Since he found out on Monday, he has had time to let the realization of him starting settle in, but admitted his emotions will be running high by the time the game comes on Sunday afternoon in Arrowhead.
“You just have to settle down,” he said. “You can be emotional, you can be hyped, but you have to settle down once things get started and just play ball inside yourself.”
Since joining the team for rookie mini camp, Swearinger has let his on-field personality show. He’s loud at practice; he likes to have fun. That’s a product of the confidence he has in his abilities. He said that confidence helped him learn the defense and realize that he could play in it.
But the rookie also knows he will face a tough task this weekend, going up against Kansas City and Jamaal Charles, one of the best running backs in the league.
But it’s a challenge for which he’s ready.
“Since little league, that’s always been prideful to me, just hitting and taking on running backs and wide receivers crossing the middle,” Swearinger said. “Me playing strong safety, I think it fits my style of play. When they told me I would be starting at strong safety, I gave them a smile and said, ‘I’m ready.’”